Ile Sainte-Marie or Nosy Boraha as it is called by the locals, is a piece of paradise located off the eastern coast of Madagascar. The island features stunning beaches, lush vegetation and traditional fishing villages that were once hidden from the eyes of mainstream tourism and are now gaining worldwide popularity.
The easiest way to reach Ile Sainte-Marie is from the capital Antananarivo by air, but it is quite expensive. The other way to access the island is by taking a bus from Antananarivo to Tamatave, then from Tamatave to the ferry terminal Soanierana-Ivongo. From here, you can reach the port of Ile Sainte-Marie by boat. This can be quite exhausting and time consuming.
If humpback whale watching is on your agenda, it is best to visit between July and September. Note that it is advised not to visit between January and March as these are the cyclone prone months.
Ambodifotatra is the only town on the island, with a small church, a busy market, lovely cafes and lodges. The church Notre Dame de l’Assomption, which was built in the 19th-century by French Catholics is believed to be the oldest church in Madagascar. However, it is not open for visitors and you can admire its red roof and facade from outside.
Ile Sainte-Marie was a hideout for hundreds of pirates during the 17th and 18th centuries, as it was conveniently located near major sea routes in the Eastern Hemisphere. Near Ambodifotatra, you will find the world’s only Pirate Cemetery, including a grave marked by the iconic skull and crossbones symbol. You will have to take a short hike to reach this site and from here, you can see the Île aux Forbans, another small island that housed pirates.
Also called Nosy Nato, this tiny car-free island lies south of Ile Sainte-Marie. The beaches here are more serene than those on the main island. You will also find a few lodges and restaurants here. You can chill on the lovely beach with a drink and enjoy the sunset from here.
While you are on the island, you are always within walking distance to an idyllic stretch of white sand and glistening blue waters. While some of the beaches are completely free from any man-made changes, others are lined with accomodations, restaurants and bars.
The northern part of Ile Sainte-Marie is home to lovely natural pools, Piscines Naturelles d’Ambodiatafana, that are separated from the ocean by rocky granite walls. Very few people visit these pools and you can enjoy the privacy. The best way to visit all the beaches in the island is by renting a bicycle and going beach-hopping!
One of the major highlights of Ile Sainte-Marie is whale watching. Between June and September every year, hundreds of humpback whales from the Antarctic migrate to these waters for breeding. If you visit during this time, you can take a boat trip and go in search of these ocean giants and listen to their mating calls.
The island is also popular for diving and snorkelling tours. You will be presented with a rich underwater world, home to infinite species of colourful fish and a few shipwrecks to explore. The best part is that these waters are free from sharks and you can enjoy them without worry! The east coast of the island is suitable for kitesurfing.
In Ile Saint-Marie, you get to experience a lovely beach vacation, far from the chaotic tourist crowds. The lovely blue shades of the waters, powdery white sand shores fringed with palms, traditional native culture and cuisine and an interesting pirate history, make this little gem in the Indian Ocean a delight for all travellers seeking a refreshing beach retreat.
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